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Aviation Rideshare? Digital Marketplaces Take Flight With Blackbird

Blackbird

Pilots often have empty seats, and travelers may be happy to fill them instead of driving to their destinations. Air travel marketplace Blackbird is seeking to play matchmaker and bring the sharing economy model to the skies.

Rudd Davis came up with the idea for Blackbird when he asked his flight instructor if he could take his wife and son along for a flight to Lake Tahoe. He would, in turn, pay the instructor on the way back. Davis applied a similar concept to an offering called Hitch, which allows passengers to share a plane with a pilot and help pay for expenses like fuel. Pilots can’t accept payment for their services, but passengers can reportedly chip in for expenses.

The service, among other flight options from his company, matches passengers with private pilots who might be going from the same departure city to the same destination at the same time. Through that pricing structure, passengers can pay about the cost of driving. And, in some cases, Davis claims that flying can, in fact, be cheaper than driving. Beyond Blackbird, other startups have launched similar services — European marketplace Wingly also connects pilots with passengers to fill empty seats.

The Sharing Economy Model

In terms of logistics, Blackbird’s Hitch offering works much like other sharing economy services. Prospective passengers reach out to a pilot as they would a driver on a ridesharing platform or a host on a homesharing platform. The pilot can then accept the passenger. Unlike ridesharing platforms such as Uber or Lyft, the matching process isn’t instant — the service will tell passengers if there is a match within 48 to 72 hours. When it comes to aircraft, Hitch tends to have the smallest size planes on the Blackbird platform with four seats.

When it comes to pilots, Davis said there are typically two categories: commercial and general aviation pilots. General aviation pilots can include people who have a commercial certification but don’t fly for money. Some of these pilots fly alone simply for enjoyment. For that reason, the phrase “$100 hamburger” was coined for pilots who will fly somewhere just to get lunch and fly back. Blackbird puts a passenger on that kind of flight and fills that excess capacity. In the process, pilots can share the cost of the trip with another person — and have some company along the way.

Following the line of rideshares, bikeshares and scootershares, Davis sees the concept of sharing flights as the next logical progression. The general idea is that the market is coming to a point where not owning a car is a reasonable option. Davis doesn’t see his customers fall into business or leisure categories — services like Blackbird are more of a true utility. Beyond the sharing economy, Blackbird offers tickets for scheduled private flights along with charters and accepts payments on behalf of pilots or flight companies via credit cards.

The Future Of Flight Marketplaces

When it comes to a target market for his service, Davis sees early adopters who are curious about new services technology. In terms of business versus leisure, Davis doesn’t see his customer base that way. In the end, he wants the service to become a part of a customers’ everyday life. Blackbird customers use the service to regularly go back and forth between Manhattan and the Hamptons.

Davis believes that the aviation industry is about to see massively lower costs in operating planes. Those cost savings could happen through the virtue of technology like hybrid propulsion (electric and fuel) as well as additional manufacturing efficiencies that will come to market in the next 24 months. Seeing this large potential for change, Davis said he wanted to be the first one in the planesharing market. Going forward, he thinks that remote pilots is a not-so-distant reality. But the real question is, will customers of flight marketplaces embrace this technology?

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